Why We Don't Do Spec Work

Posted 9 years ago by Adam Gautsch

Dave Smith asked me earlier today on Twitter, "What's OC's take on spec work?"

Here's my over 140 character response.

We don't do spec work for two main reasons:

1.) Part of our process includes a good amount of time put into research. This research includes getting to know the company and the people in the company. This allows us to deliver the best solution from a message, marketing, design, and functional stand point. You aren't allowed this research and get to know you time with spec work. All you can go on is what you think people might like. Making decisions on blind guesses is not a good business process.

If a company is interested in seeing if we have the chops. We have a past projects section.

2.) We can only charge for the hours we spend working. If we give those hours away for free then when do we make money. On top of that, Bill Masters (former owner of Perception kayaks) once said he never gave away a kayak for free because free has no value. That stuck with me.

If you're young and trying to make a name for yourself I'd suggest doing amazing work for small companies with small budgets. That way you get real world experience and get to nail down a process of working with clients that you can use for the rest of your life.

Doing spec work doesn't help you grow as a business person. Learning how to talk to a customer, learning what they need, and delivering a product for those needs is a real key to business. If you are just doing imaginary work that you hope people will like you'll never grow and learn this process.

PS: You can follow me on Twitter.com/agautsc


dave ~ 9 years ago

So, then is it fair to say in the context of this post "spec" and "pro bono" are not one in the same? This is the controversy I am battling on a certain message board. The dichotomy will infinitely be split, and it's important I think at least to define what's what.

Adam Gautsch ~ 9 years ago

I don't particularly like pro-bono work either. Mainly because free has no value and so often, you find that you end up doing much more work than you can afford to give away for free because pro-bono clients have no way of understanding how much value you are providing.

This isn't exactly a fault of charity, they just don't know any better and you haven't done a good enough job explaining these things.

If you do pro-bono work you should figure out a way to at least associate a time value with your work so that your client can understand how much work and how great of a value you a providing.

That being said, yes there is a huge difference between spec and pro-bono. Spec is doing free work in hopes of getting a paid gig. Pro-bono is doing a free project because of a belief in the cause or people associated with that cause.

dave ~ 9 years ago

Right-o. That's the sentiment I've been trying to share. It's less about just doing the work, but more about having the capacity to sell the worth of what you're doing to a client through a medium they otherwise are incapable of producing themselves.

I intend to use quotes here.

Mallie Majarais ~ 9 years ago

speaking of...free....there are a lot of free teas on your acct here at O-CHA.

dave ~ 9 years ago

Speaking of O-Cha I still haven't come down to the new location yet. I've got to do that sometime this week.

olivier blanchard ~ 9 years ago


Brian Cendrowski ~ 9 years ago

I could not agree any more about not doing spec work or free consulting. I don't believe that most people are malicious or calculating about taking your ideas and running with them, but that's what happens most of the time. If a prospect gets 10 proposals for a project, each with its own solution, they'll pick the pieces of those proposals they like and then choose one company to implement it. What does that leave for the other nine that didn't get picked? They don't get a royalty check for their ideas.

As far as doing pro-bono work, I would send my pro-bono clients a quote at the beginning of a project, and then an invoice at the end of the project, like I would any other client, showing each line item and cost associated with that service or product, but then at the bottom apply a "discount" that rendered it free. I think that's a helpful approach for reminding pro-bono clients that what you do is valuable even if they aren't paying you any money.

I think it also provides a basis for accountability in the project so you don't get raked over the coals and end up doing twice as much as you originally agreed to. I've found scope creep to be much more prevalent in free work than paying, because people will always ask for more when it's free.

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